Bill asks feds to assess lands for national forest designation

Legislation directing the U.S. Forest Service to assess the potential for Hawaii lands to be declared a national forest has been introduced by Hawaii’s Congressional Delegation.

The bill, introduced by U.S. Sens. Mazie K. Hirono and Brian Schatz and U.S. Reps. Ed Case and Kai Kahele, directs the federal agency to work in partnership with local stakeholders from the state and community to study lands suitable to become part of the National Forest System.

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Across the United States, more than 150 national forests receive federal funding to sustain healthy forests, conserve watersheds and wildlife habitats, reduce fire hazards, and provide community recreational access. The national forest designation also allows for further research opportunities as well as other federal support and natural resource management, according to a Thursday press release from the delegation.

“The potential establishment of Hawaii’s first national forest reserve is an important step toward the conservation and expansion of our unique and vibrant ecosystems. Hawaii’s finite natural resources, wildlife, and endangered plant species must be protected,” said Kahele, who hails from Hilo. “A national forest reserve here at home will help to ensure that for generations to come.”

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Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources First Deputy Bob Masuda said Hawaii’s existing State Forest Reserves, watershed and endangered species protection programs would align well with a National Forest in Hawaii.

The bill will be referred to these committees for consideration. If enacted, it would would require the Forest Service to submit a report within three years to Congress that includes results and any recommendations or conclusions.

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